There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.
Neil Young, “Rockin’ In the Free World”
Another opening night is upon us, gentle reader. In a few hours, I will be opening in David Mamet’s play, November. I am playing Charles H. P. Smith, the President of the United States. While I realize this is an absolute nightmare to some people, me being the ruler of the ‘free world’ and all that, this has been a serious adventure for me. Much to the chagrin of my agent, I am sure, though, because it has cut into my writing time. I am on stage and blathering like a madman for the entire show, so the line memorization has been a fight I am not used to. And I am not going to jinx anything by commenting further on that line…
The lovely bit of irony in this show, for me, has been the scheduling of its run. Opening two days after the nastiest presidential campaign I have ever been witness to has made me more focused on the body of politics in this country. Over the past few months, I have been branded as a socialist, a communist, a Nazi sympathizer, a panderer to gay rights, a feminist, a tree-hugger, a ‘f*ckin’ hippie,” and other such lovely terms. Alas, such is a life in the world of political opinion…
I am sitting here now, in the midst of my pre-show rituals and superstitions. Laugh all you want, but if it works, I keep it. I have my tunes blasting in my head and a particularly gory horror movie on the TV, set to mute. I have the jitters from piling on the caffeine, and a Camel Menthol burning in the ashtray. And with all that sensory input, I get my mind set to focus on nothing but the show coming up.
And, yet, I find myself thinking back to Tuesday night and the election. And the utter absurdity of the levels of bitterness and hatred that flew back and forth between people on both sides of the coin. I do confess, I got into the mix in the months prior to the actual voting day. My tolerance level for blind hate and stupidity has lowered drastically over the years. For the most part, though, I am an ‘agree to disagree’ person and if someone doesn’t share my opinion, I am not going to force the issue. Bombarding my Facebook page with dozens of “reputable” articles from one biased source is not going to change the “other team’s” favoritism, nor will it make me seem smarter or more ‘sensible’ than someone else. Rather, it tends to make the poster look like a nut with a superiority complex. It makes them feel good about themselves, though, so who am I to deny their right to do such…
The character I play in November, President Chuck Smith, is everything you would not want in a mayor of a village in the outskirts of Nowhere, much less want as your president. Let’s say this – he does not handle stress well. (Hmmmm… why do I suddenly wonder if Paul Conroy, my director, believes in typecasting…) And, a small confession? I have loved every second of playing this role. It has given me the outlet to vent a TON of emotions that have built up since my mom passed away. It has been therapeutic, raving like a madman, saying the most outrageous and bombastic lunacy at the top of my lungs for almost six weeks or more.
All that is left now is to follow the “Astronaut Prayer” as set forth by one of my heroes, Alan Shepard, before he became the first American to go into space. “Please, lord, don’t let me f*ck up…”
I have my superstitions, my rituals, my nervous traits that only show up before I am about to go onstage. Most people in the theatre company I work with know these superstitions by now, and respect them, thankfully. When we do get newcomers into the fold, I am told that someone always takes them aside and tells them, “That guy there? You are going to think he is insane… just let him do his thing… it works…” I don’t actually know if that is true, but it makes me chuckle, wondering what someone might actually think of my pacing back and forth, eyes closed, counting steps back and forth, moving to whatever tune is on the mp3 player, and muttering to myself.
I got asked the other day if concentrating on this role has made me consider doing more in the political world. My answer, once I caught my breath, was an emphatic, “Not only no but HELL NO!” I will support a candidate, or an issue, or a referendum that I believe in, and I will not support anything I do not believe in with an open mind. But I do not have any desire to be the go-to person to hold an office and put my family, friends, beliefs, and enjoyments under a microscope for anyone else to nitpick to the minutest detail. And my patience for those who would do that nitpicking would render me a screaming mass of profanity. It tickles me sometimes, watching a candidate run for office, and act surprised that something he or she did ten or twenty years ago was brought into question. These days, people do not look for skeletons in closets, folks, they look for bone chips. They look for crumbs. They look for tidbits.
No, no, Gentle Reader… I am content to play the president on stage for two weekends, and move on to whatever is next.
My friend, David Broshar, is a member of a theatre company in North Carolina. He and I have known one another since college, where we did many shows together. Another friend, Riley Clermont, is opening a show soon. I love the fact that people I know from long ago are still active in theatre, either as professionals, or as a part of the (gasp!!!) community theatre groups that get so maligned by some purists. We have the ‘sickness’ that makes us want to perform. And whether we are playing presidents, or doing Shakespeare, or just doing improv comedy for a laughing crowd, it’s what makes things right in our world. We can go without it for a while, maybe, but we find our way back to it, and when we do, great things happen…
To quote another David Mamet title, such is “a life in the theatre…”